Explores how the emotional experience of gratitude has been enlisted in neoliberal governance through the language of debt.
In The Art of Gratitude, Jeremy David Engels sketches a genealogy of gratitude from the ancient Greeks to the contemporary self-help movement. One of the most striking things about gratitude, Engels finds, is how consistently it is described using the language of indebtedness. A chief purpose of this, he contends, is to make us more comfortable living lives in debt, with the nefarious effect of pacifying the citizenry so we are less likely to speak out about social and economic injustice. To counteract this, he proposes an alternative art of gratitude-as-thanksgiving that is inspired by Indian philosophy, particularly the yoga philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras. He argues that this art of gratitude can challenge neoliberalism by reorienting our politics away from resentment, anger, and guilt and toward a democratic ethic of thanksgiving and the common good.
“With an eye toward providing a healthy foundation for a democratic society, Engels makes the revolutionary proposal to reconstitute ‘gratitude’ as an emotion, idea, and value by including it with other democratic values such as equality and freedom. Injecting new life into traditional but flawed values is no small task, and Engels proposes searching far afield for new resources … Highly recommended.” — CHOICE
“There is no more urgent question before us in the US today than how to create a vigorous, non-resentful democratic community. Jeremy Engels’s The Art of Gratitude is a provocative meditation on different conceptions of that emotion and its political role, with attractive Walt Whitmanesque conclusions about joy and comradeship. Even people who disagree with many of the book’s historical claims, as I do, can find fun and insight in the critical engagement.” — Martha C. Nussbaum, The University of Chicago
“In the contemporary moment, when gratitude is widely touted as the panacea to many of our ills, Jeremy Engels provides a timely critical genealogy of this emotion, showing how it has been used for social control, and how it affirms the state of indebtedness at the heart of neoliberalism. But Engels also makes a compelling case for the art of gratitude, a gratefulness with capacities for cultivating the self and strengthening democracies.” — William Edelglass, coeditor of Facing Nature: Levinas and Environmental Thought
“This book accomplishes two important goals: it provides a very detailed and interesting history of gratitude in the West, and it brings Eastern philosophy—especially yoga—into our accounts of gratitude and flourishing. A unique project with an eminently readable style, it will appeal to a number of audiences, including those interested in the theory and practice of yoga.” — Scott R. Stroud, author of John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality
Table of Contents
Introduction: Gratitude’s Keywords
1. Words Matter: On the Rhetoric of Emotion
2. From “Charis” to “Gratia”: On the Political Origins of the Debt of Gratitude
3. “Gratitudo”: On Christian Gratitude and Existential Debt
4. “Indebted”: On the Contemporary Gratitude Literature
5. “Santosha”: On the Yoga of Gratitude
Conclusion: The Politics of a Sunset: From Gratefulness to the Common Good
About the Author:
Jeremy David Engels is the Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State University. He is the author of The Politics of Resentment: A Genealogy and Enemyship: Democracy and Counter-Revolution in the Early Republic.